Never ever outsource your social media. Ever.

All articles | Social Media
Published Mar 21, 2013 | Written by Eric Swain
A recent episode of The Social Media Show dealt with the question of whether organisations should outsource their social media to a third party agency.

This topic always sparks a healthy debate. I’m going to tell you why you should never do it. Never, never, never... Ever!

Ok. Hands up. I admit it. This headline is a bit of a sensationalistic attention-grabber. But in my defence, it is a reaction to seeing yet another agency offering to handle all of their clients social media for them (including tweeting daily jokes and proverbs!).

I’m sure you’ve come across that before - agencies saying they will “do” social media for organisations, completely manage their social efforts on their behalf.

Heck, you may even have been thinking about seeking this sort of service out yourself. In some ways, this is completely understandable. You have a lot of things done for you by agencies – PR, media buying, creative, planning, copywriting, etc. It feels natural to treat social media that way too. Resist that feeling.

Social media is about being human

If we’ve learned one thing about social media by this point it’s that it is a human activity at its heart. That in order to “do it right”, for it truly to be effective, we have to be able to make a genuine connection with people. The new authenticity demanded by the social era means consumers no longer will stand for the prototypical corporate façade of old. If they want to connect on social media with your company, they want it to be a real connection.

It’s difficult enough to create a personality for a @corporateXYZ account, for example. There seems to be an immediate and unavoidable barrier erected by the use of the company name and logo in the profile, rather than the name of a real person (or even a pseudonym). But if you add a third party agency into the mix, who necessarily will be forced to impersonate the company, achieving authenticity and connection becomes almost impossible.

Can an agency ever have the right knowlege?

In addition to that near impossibility there is the question of knowledge. Customers (and other important people) increasingly use social media to find information, especially, but not exclusively, in the B2B world. Being able to answer technical questions, to dip into forums and user groups, to write convincing, accurate, authoritative content requires an in-depth knowledge of the company and its products or services. An external agency, especially one that has its hands full with many clients, will struggle to ever gain the necessary knowledge and authority.

Social media often requires immediate action

And speaking of questions and authority, what will the agency do if there is a customer complaint? Would you feel comfortable giving whichever agency staffer is covering your account at the time the power to deal with an angry customer? In a public space? With who-knows-who watching?

Or instead, will the agency need to phone you or send you an email asking you how they should handle the issue? How inefficient and delaying is that? Meanwhile, the customer, who in this social age expects an immediate response, sits fuming or worse complaining even more emphatically.

Think "co-sourcing" rather than "outsourcing"

But Eric, I hear you say, I have some serious reasons to consider outsourcing my social media; I don’t have the time, the people, or the knowledge.

And those are good reasons, Matilda. I agree. Social media done effectively requires resource and expertise. It is around these areas where an agency can help. But not through outsourcing.

Perhaps it is simply that “outsourcing” is the wrong word. It conjures up images of call centre-style outposts populated by interchangeable, anonymous (wretched) workers. Perhaps we need a more appropriate term. I think a better term (and model) is “co-sourcing”, where the company uses the agency to work with them, to support them, to take up the effort where they can’t.

The agency still has to understand the company as deeply as possible and has to work closely with the company to create lines of communication, areas of responsibility and workflows between them. And the ideal co-sourcing relationship involves a level of knowledge transfer along the way, where the agency helps the company learn over time.

Outsourcing/co-sourcing can get you the rudiments, the mechanical requirements of a social media effort, but the magic, the awesome sauce (as the kids say), the part that really delivers results, that can’t be outsourced because it requires authenticity and needs to withstand scrutiny. And it needs to be conversational, which can only be delivered by someone (or a handful of someones) who have the deep knowledge, the comfort and the freedom that comes from being a part of the organisation.

Next time I will deal with how to work with an agency in a co-sourcing social media arrangement, how to draw up the lines of demarcation to make your whole social media programme better. See part 2 here.

Image by: markhillary


Published by Eric Swain March 21, 2013
Eric Swain